Everybody Wants Some: Structure Without Structure – Part 2
By Jacob Krueger
Everybody Wants Some: Structure Without Structure - Part 2
In Part 1 of this podcast, we discussed the structural elements that allow Everybody Wants Some to overcome the challenges of its meandering plot and nearly total subversion of every rule of screenwriting. But there are other reasons, beyond structure, Everybody Wants Some succeeds, in spite of its complete disregard for the rules. And whether you’re a traditional Hollywood writer, or a rule defying auteur like Richard Linklater, they’re concepts you can use to great effect in your own writing.
As we discussed, the first thing that makes Everybody Wants Some succeed is that the characters all want something: everybody wants some.
The second thing that makes Everybody Wants Some work is the specificity of the approach Linklater takes to every moment we spend with each of these characters. From the first moment we meet these characters, there is no detail unobserved in this film. There is no detail unobserved in who these characters are. Linklater locks in each character from the very first moment, using a powerful screenwriting technique called Vignettes. If you’ve taken my screenwriting classes, you know how vital Vignettes are when introducing characters, and how they can become the organic building blocks of structure as you discover your character’s journey. So as you watch Everybody Wants Some or reflect on it if you’ve already seen it, notice how each of these characters is introduced with a Vignette: an action, a choice, a decision, something they do that is so specifically them, that it locks them in our minds forever. And this is why Linklater is able to get away with this cast of dozens, and let us feel like we know each and every one of them.
If you listened to my podcast on Inside Out, you probably remember me talking about how a team of therapists had been consulted on the development of the script, and were upset that all the many, many, many different core emotions they had identified for the writers had been boiled down to only five. And this brilliant guy at Pixar pointed out that there is no way we can serve 21 or 17 or 30 different emotions. We’ve got to’ boil it down to five. We can serve about five characters well. And that is the rule; that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to boil it down to five main characters, one main character at the center of all that, because that’s all we’re supposed to be able to do. And yet, here’s a movie with at least a dozen major characters and we feel like we know every single one of them. In fact we could never confuse one for another, not even the little ones who barely have a role. And that all begins with Vignettes. That begins by letting your character do something in a way that demonstrates a unique “how,” something about them that is just different from everybody else. Once you create that first Vignette, it becomes so easy to write the character, because all you have to do the next time we meet them is ask yourself a very simple question:
Are they doing something similar, or something very different from what they did the last time we met them?
In this way, we start to reveal the patterns about the characters. We start to reveal the dominant trait of the characters, who they really are. And, we start to appreciate if and how the characters start to change.
And this is the next rule that Everybody Wants Some breaks. None of these characters seem to change at all. These characters are who they are from beginning to end. So why does it work?
Well, here is the next reason: These characters make you laugh at every single moment. There is not a scene in this film that doesn’t make you laugh. There is not a line in this film that isn’t worth every dollar that you paid to get in.
The scene work in this film is absolutely brilliant. And even if the scenes don’t always really fit together, even if that chain of cause and effects, of wants and completions that we talk about, even if that chain of structure isn’t there, the individual scene work at each moment is so closely observed, so honest, so true, so funny, that it’s easy to forgive this film its trespasses.
There’s an idea I talk about a lot, but generally in terms of Hollywood movies, of serving the genre monster. The concept is that every film has a genre monster that it serves. And that genre monster doesn’t exist in the film, it exists in the audience. But that genre monster is cultivated by the film. The film makes a promise that opens a door for a little monster that just wants to consume the feeling that the premise promised them.
There is a feeling that we go to a movie wanting to have delivered. If you listened to my recent podcast on Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I talked about how the film made a promise and then backed away and then made another promise, and then backed away.
Well, this film makes a promise and it delivers. The promise is: you will laugh your ass off at a bunch of philosophical idiot asshole bros trying to get laid. And that’s what this film delivers.
This film delivers a bunch of idiot asshole bros making you laugh and trying to get laid. And because every line and every scene makes you laugh, you stop caring so much if the structure actually makes sense or if the movie’s actually going anywhere. You end up going through nearly 2 hours of this movie, and though you might find moments a bit slow, you’re still having a good time.
So, oftentimes, what happens is we’re told all these rules about what a movie is supposed to do, and it’s not that those rules aren’t “right.” There are a lot of things about Everybody Wants Some that don’t work at all.
But we start to think, “Well, my movie has to do all of these things. I can’t not do any of these things. Every single thing in giant Robert McKee’s Story or little skinny Save The Cat, every single thing I’ve been told by Syd Field or Christopher Vogler, every single thing I’ve read about The Hero’s Journey, that all must go in my film.” But the truth is no.
The truth is, all these ideas exist to serve the film that you are building. They’re not the rules of how to make a film, they are the tools that we use on occasion when something isn’t working.
Great filmmaking doesn’t come from great structure, or great treatments, even though these are great things to have while building a film. Great filmmaking comes from beautiful moments and brilliant characters. It comes from hot relationships that are developed over time, that allow us to feel like we can can fall in love with those characters.
And while my personal taste runs a lot more towards Boyhood than it does towards Everybody Wants Some, that doesn’t change the fact that Everybody Wants Some delivers on what it promises. And that’s why it’s getting these great reviews and that’s why it’s getting applause from its audience, even as it completely ignores all the rules.
So how do you know if your scene is executed that well? How do you know if your writing is good enough that you can throw the rules away? How do you know if your line of dialogue is worth as much as one of the lines in this movie? How do you know if you can trust that even if you’re breaking the rules, your movie is still delivering?
Well, one of the places to start is actually not outside yourself; it’s inside yourself. You want to look at your movie just like Willoughby looks of those Pink Floyd lyrics we discussed in Part 1 of this podcast, finding the little piece of you inside of the structure.
And the first thing you want to ask yourself is: is it true? Do you personally believe every moment? Do you believe that your characters are acting like themselves? Do you believe every line that they say?
The next question you want to ask yourself is: is it delivering the genre experience, the feeling, that you want when you go to see this kind of movie?
If you want to bounce around college feeling like you’re hanging around with a bunch of bros, well you don’t do that by building a rock-solid structure. You do that by meandering drunkenly around the campus, just like the structure of Everybody Wants Some.
The next question you ask yourself: is every line you write worth the cost of shooting it?
See, movies cost money. That means every line you write costs money; it costs a lot of money. Even if you’re doing a low-budget movie, even if, let’s say you’re doing a million dollar movie, that means that every page that you write is worth about 10 Grand. That means that every line that you write is worth about 1000 bucks.
Just think about that. And start multiplying. If you’re doing a $10 million movie or a hundred million dollar movie, think about how much value each of those lines needs to have. When you watch Everybody Wants Some, a movie that was shot on a 10 million dollar budget, one of the first things you’ll see is that every line is worth the $10,000 it costs to shoot.
And that’s next question you can ask yourself: if somebody said to you, “Would you rather have this line or a 1000 dollars, or 10,000 dollars, or $100,000 dollars?” what would you do?
If you’d take the money instead of the line, you know your script is not there yet. Not because you’re not following the rules, but because you are asking somebody to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. You’re asking somebody else to give a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars for a line that you would not give yourself.
So if you want to become a Richard Linklater, here’s how you do it. You become a Richard Linklater by cutting those lines that aren’t worth the money until you’re only left with the ones that are. You do that by cutting the moments that aren’t your characters at their purest essence, until you’re left with only the ones that do reveal them in this way.
The next thing you can do, to make sure your script is really ready, is you can start to get some outside advice. You can do a reading of your work. You can do it easily and for free. Or you can seek out professional guidance like we do with our ProTrack mentorship program, where we pair student writers with professional writers to work through their scripts.
You can seek some professional advice and see: are you delivering the genre experience to your audience that you’re delivering for yourself? Are they getting it? And if you’re not, or they’re not, it means that you need to apply some craft to your piece. If your audience isn’t feeling it or getting it, you need to apply some craft.
But you need to also be very careful. You have to be so careful about who you take that advice from. Because there’s a good chance that your coverage reader has never seen Everybody Wants Some. There’s a good chance that the dude giving you development notes from your screenwriting competition has never ever sold a movie. There’s a good chance that even your college professor or the guy who wrote the book that you’re reading has never sold a movie.
The truth is screenwriters, especially successful screenwriters, make money. The amount of money you make from one successful screenplay is more than you’d make from ten screenwriting books. And while there are people doing this for love and passion and the desire to give back, there are also a lot of sharks in this water.
And so it is important to be careful about who you’re taking your advice from. You want to ask yourself, are they giving me a bunch of rules because somebody taught the rules to them and said they were important? Or do they actually understand the purpose those rules are supposed to serve? Are they telling me what“a movie is “supposed” to be? Or are they giving me their experience of the film, and the tools I need to allow their experience and my experience to match up?
There’s one last reason that Everybody Wants Some works despite all the many rules that it breaks. And that last reason is theme. Movies are about something. Even silly, goofy movies like this one are about something.
If you think about the very last scene of Everybody Wants Some you’ll see how the last image of a movie helps lock in the meaning for the audience. We’ve had a ticking clock set up for the whole movie. We are waiting, counting the hours, down until the first class. And I’m not going to ruin the moment for you, but when you see the movie you’ll see what happens at the first class. And you’ll see how this whole movie builds towards a moment. And that that moment is about meaning. It’s about the difference between the things that we’re supposed to get meaning from, and the things that actually deliver meaning in our lives. It’s about the difference between what the purpose of college and the purpose of learning are supposed to be, and the places where the real lessons that make us us are found.
Oftentimes, when we sit down to write a screenplay we think we’re writing about one thing, but it turns out we’re writing about something else. We’re writing about something in ourselves. We’re writing about a search that we are undertaking, something about ourselves that we’re trying to understand. And once we start to find that theme, once we start to find that thing that it’s actually about, we want to keep coming back to that theme again and again.
We want to let that theme determine the rules that we follow and the rules that we ignore. We want the form of our movie and the function of our movie to dovetail together.
One of my great poetry professors, when I was in college, was a guy named Bill Cook. And Bill used to say that form and function need to be the same thing in a poem. And in many ways a screenplay is like a poem.
A screenplay is a document in which every single word is essential, with a tonality and a rhythm and a feeling to it. And in a movie, form and function also have to go together and they have to be governed by the theme, the “what” you’re building, the “what” you’re exploring the “what” it’s all about: the thing that actually gives the story meaning for you.
Everybody Wants Some is a movie about a bunch of guys trying to get laid, but it’s also movie about a bunch of guys trying to figure out what gives meaning in their lives. It’s a movie about a bunch of guys trying to get laid, but it’s also movie about how this silly stupid shit that we do when we’re teenagers actually turns us into the people that we become.
Everybody Wants Some is a movie about a bunch guys trying to get laid, and but it’s also a movie about what it means to be an artist. What it means to grow up in a society that does run on a formula, that does have certain expectations, and to still find our own voices and our own meaning inside of it.
Everybody Wants Some is a movie about a bunch of guys trying to get laid, but it’s also a movie about the profundity that exists even among the biggest bunch of dumb asses in the world.
So often, as writers, we feel like maybe we don’t have enough to give, maybe we don’t have enough to say, maybe we don’t have the right idea, or good enough craft, or good enough art, or good enough voice.
Sometimes we see ourselves like these baseball douche bags, like a bunch of people that don’t really have that much to give, a bunch of people who maybe want something foolish that they’re not really good enough to have.
But the truth is, being a writer is about learning to play, because being an artist is about learning to play, in the same way being a baseball player is about learning to play, in the same way that everything that we do that we’re passionate about, that we don’t know if we can actually succeed at, is about learning to play.
And oftentimes we think we’re going to find the meaning by going about our choices properly. But when you’re making creative choices, what’s important is not to go about them properly, it’s to go about them playfully, to enjoy the process of finding out who you are as an artist, as a baseball player, as a person.
That’s what Everybody Wants Some is about. And as a great artist, Richard Linklater goes about it playfully. He throws away every rule that doesn’t serve him, and obeys only the ones that do. He throws away the traditional engines of structure, not because he doesn’t understand them, but because they don’t serve his film.
Everybody Wants Some is not a movie that I fell in love with. Compared to Linklater’s other films, I actually didn’t enjoy Everybody Wants Some much at all.
But I sure appreciated Everybody Wants Some. I certainly appreciated the courage it takes to make a movie about a bunch of people that quite frankly I don’t want to hang out with. The courage it takes to find the profundity, not in the profound people, but in the people we’re most likely to dismiss. I appreciated the way it looked at that search for meaning that we all go through when we pursue the things that we love.
I hope that you enjoyed this podcast. We make this podcast available totally free and with no advertising at all so if you got something out of it, please go to iTunes and write us a review. You can also find a complete transcript of this podcast on my website, writeyourscreenplay.com. And if you’d like to study with me in New York City, online, as part of our international retreats, or our one on one ProTrack mentorship program you can learn more about that at our website writeyourscreenplay.com.